Thursday, January 15, 2015

showing goals: dressage!

My 2015 Q1 goals include planning our show season. We're not at a level where I need to plan months in advance, but the MCTA (our local association) compiles an annual calendar of clinics and shows (schooling and recognized) that makes for fun browsing. So why not?

do ALL the things!

Horse trials are highest on the wish list this year. But I also want variety. Now that we've dipped our toes into HTs with positive results (ignore that pesky elimination lol), I want to reach for better scores *without* breaking the bank.

So yes - I want to do a lot of shows (on the cheap) for one ultimate objective: improve our performance at horse trials. And at the Intro/Elem level our biggest road block is dressage.


Jumpers (and maybe hunters) shows are primarily opportunities for more miles - perhaps especially if we dabble at 2'6" later this year (there aren't many 2'3" classes - my current happy height - and right now I'll drop to 2' before pushing for 2'6"...). We'll get off the property and jump new things, but the outings will be relatively quick and easy for Isabel, work-wise.

Dressage is superficially the same story - but there's an added element: judge's comments and individually scored movements & collective marks. 

USEF training level score card

My dressage pretty much sucks (and yes, another goal is to make regular lessons a thing again); I'm kinda obliviously all over the place and Isabel reflects that. 

In a way tho - I see dressage shows (especially the schooling variety, and ESPECIALLY fix-a-test classes) as glorified lessons. If we can go do two or three tests for a judge at a cost similar to lessons (which are virtually impossible to schedule), perhaps we'll gain more direction for schooling at home?


But of course, before it'd even be worth it to pay for that 'lesson' we should probably already feel somewhat confident in our ability to get through a test. 

Isabel and I have ridden four judged dressage tests. And they were all borderline abysmal -- tho there was distinct improvement from one to the next. 

 USEF Beginner Novice Test A: 41.6 (9/28/14, translates to 58.4%)
USEF Beginner Novice Test A: 39.0 (10/25/14, translates to 61%)

There's still some consistency there, tho. Our marks for impulsion and submission are lower than those for gaits and rider (tho all four areas can definitely use improvement!)... making these the starting points for practice, maybe?

But more importantly, for this Q1 goal to make any sense, it's probably best to create a subgoal: start working on Training Level tests 1, 2 and 3. T-1 is verrrry similar to the above BN test A, but things start changing and getting interesting in T-2 and T-3. Like, um... how do I stretchy circle at trot???? 

Ideally, we'd learn under the watchful guidance of our dressage trainer MP... who we haven't connected with since early September... Meaning we'll probably learn these tests on our own. 

We'll muddle through one way or another - but I'm curious to know from those of you who do these things: when you're learning new tests, do you run through them all at once? Or practice the individual movements / elements? Or some combination thereof? 

35 comments:

  1. Haven't done a dressage test since I was in PC camp at 16, sadly I cannot remember what we did but I think it was run through the whole test as a lesson - namely following one behind the other. Went home learnt it and ran through it individually the next day. Hardly ideal, but it was a week long PC camp so time was limited but learning was awesome ;-)
    Fab Q1 goals, hope you can hit up all the fun outings and learn loads. I will continue to live vicariously through your fab fun showing adventures!

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    1. interesting running through it all together! at my first farm we learned drills together - so it was sorta similar, except the tests were designed to be ridden that way. it was actually a lot of fun, now that i think about it...!

      and thanks! i hope we can do all the fun things too - and maybe even bring home some *nicer* scores lol

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  2. Okay, brace yourself. This is gonna get long. :)
    1. Yes, dressage shows can give you a ton of feedback and really show your strengths and weaknesses, especially if you look at results over time. Then you can tailor your lessons/practice to helping solidify those weaknesses, while using the strengths as a positive point in your training. (Example: really collecting at the canter or working simple changes frustrates Guinness, so I'll take a break from it and do canter half pass, which he is very good at. He feels like he did something right for once, and I relax because we're getting along. Then we go back to working the hard stuff.) (Note to self, maybe do a post on this?)
    2. You are going to want to feel like you can consistently perform the tests at the minimum level before you go in. Preferably, you'd like to be able to feel confident going in that nothing is going to go seriously wrong within the movements, and that you can control your horse in the ring. (Example: If I was at Training level, I'd want to make sure that my horse is willing to go around and do most of the test on contact. Not crazy contact, but I'd want to make sure I can touch his mouth without him flipping out before I go in. This is not as important for Intro.)
    3. Stretchy circle at the trot is a test of contact. You absolutely cannot get it if you don't have reliable contact. The horse has to understand that when you put your leg on, they have to go into, submit to, and follow your hand. If they don't, you're just trotting around up there with floppy reins and a confused horse. Ask me how I know... :)
    4. Learning tests I usually do off the horse. EquiTests has put together great apps that make learning your tests much easier. I do a lot of finger tracing in the air (yeah, it looks dumb. Whatever.) before I attempt the tests on horseback. Then, I usually try to have someone with me who can call out the movements if I get lost while learning it. You'd be surprised how quickly you'll learn them. We all have different methods, but for me I learn in chunks. "1st trot section" followed by "1st canter section" followed by "2nd trot section" followed by "walk section" followed by "2nd canter section" ... you get the idea. But, that's just how I do it. Try other methods, something will work for you.
    5. I usually run through my tests chunk by chunk, not stringing it all together until a few days before the test. That way I see how all the trot work fits together, but I don't necessarily bore the crap out of my horse with it. I also feel free to repeat movements in the chunks during practice, especially if my horse isn't bent enough, or isn't collected enough, or whatever.

    Did you make it through that? Whew. Now some other things....
    • I just posted a link to a George Morris video where he talks about contact. Go listen to it. Free lesson.
    • You'll do fine. Practice is going to be a HUUUUGE help for you guys! Plus, Isabel would make a fabulously adorable dressage pony, don't you think?! (Maybe I'm just biased for chestnuts? Yes. Yes, I am.)

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    1. thanks Austen - i always hugely appreciate the detail you give in your responses!
      1 - that's sort of my hope, and i am really looking forward to feedback regardless - esp if it helps me better understand where we're already doing well. and yes please do a post on your methods!
      2. i actually feel ok-ish about this already. isabel is a saint and will more or less do anything i ask. she may do it with nose poked out or with a head fling... but she'll do it.
      3. oh contact... this is really not a test we can pass yet. this is really where i need help, bc we'll have a breakthrough in a lesson, but i lose it after a while in my schooling... ugh why is so hard to schedule a lesson!!
      4-5. i do ok learning the test itself bc i approach it like learning a jump course - but actually stringing together the movements while riding sometimes throws me off. i like your method of doing chunks at a time, repeating as necessary. i tend to want to rush through things and if we flubbed something, too bad - we're on to the next.

      phew - so much to think about!! i'll definitely watch that link - GM has a nice way of breaking things down. and isabel could be the CUTEST dressage horse. ya know, if i actually rode her properly lol :) thanks!

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    2. ooh thanks - that's definitely a helpful read. i tend to fall into the trap of wanting to do more more more, but this contact thing really needs to happen first, regardless of how grueling it might seem...

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  3. I do things about the same as Austen, and she explained it super well so I'm not going to say much. But for memorizing tests I set up an arena in my living room and walk/trot out the test movements by myself. Another helpful tip- remember that in the free walk and stretchy circle, the judge wants to see contact. Don't just drop the reins completely. The horse should kind of follow your arms down and stretch into the bit. I find it helpful to lengthen the reins a tiny bit at a time for practice too. Good luck and I think you'll do fabulously!

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    1. thanks - that useful to think about lengthening the reins a bit at a time, rather than all at once! right now it's kinda a crap shoot if the horse will follow my hands down... but we'll work on it!

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  4. I love how ambitious you are. I don't think you see it yourself but you are fearless and driven. You are dedicated and strategic. I hope you have an amazing year with Miz Iz.

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    1. aw thanks! it's funny - there was a very specific moment in time (allllmost a year ago now) when i dug deep about what i wanted with horses. it was like a switch flipped - i decided to really go for it - really commit, and see where it takes me. it's certainly been exciting ever since then!!

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  5. Ditto Austen!! I first learn my tests off the horse as well - I like to print out or draw the dressage arena and then draw the 'track' of each movement with a pen or pencil. I realize this is kind of old-school with all the cool dressage apps out there nowadays, but it works for me! Then I'll run through the whole thing on my pony, and find out where we're having trouble, and then work on the movements that weren't so hot. And yes also to Austen on the stretchy circle!

    Idea: can we do a Blogger Riding Camp where we all hang out with our ponies for a week or two and help and teach each other?! BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE SO FUN.

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    1. omg yesssss please lets do the camp!!! haha that would be ah-may-zing!!!!

      lol - and thanks to the rest too. i lean towards more old school methods too - mostly bc writing something out helps me learn. nice idea on doing one quick run through first, then breaking it into pieces!

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  6. Austen gives the best answers! I very rarely ride through an entire test. Most of the movements pretty much fall into my daily routine anyway, so I honestly barely even think about a test. I've seen people drill on the entire test before and there's two things I've noticed with a lot of people (it works for a few) doing that 1) the horse starts anticipating 2) the rider starts riding the test like one big movement instead of riding each individual one and their ride ends up looking dull and flat. This also makes it so that a lot of the exercises are ridden wrong because people are so focused on the pattern that they forget about the quality that it takes to ride the movement correctly.

    So, to me, it's not about the test, but making what is in the test just a normal routine so that the shows end up feeling like just another training ride.

    You're going to do awesome!

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    1. thanks! isabel is 100% the kind of horse that would anticipate the next movement - something i'd like to avoid too. interesting points on the ride looking 'dull and flat' when ridden as one movement. that sounds like a trap i'd fall into, so thanks for bringing it up! and guess i better start trying to add stretchy trot circles to the routine haha - thanks!

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    2. LOVE the point you made in #2, Jodi!

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  7. I did several schooling dressage shows last year and surprisingly liked it lolz.

    They're definitely cheap and low key, such is nice. I usually have someone read for me, especially if I'm doing more than one test. Most schooling shows are totally fine with this, so you may want to recruit a friend to read for you!

    I look over a test and get a feel for the movements it wants me to do and spend most of my time practicing those. A week or two before the show, I'll start running through the test(s) to see how it flows.

    Good luck - y'all are going to be great!

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    1. the idea of having a reader sound both awesome and HUGELY distracting haha. maybe i should give it a try schooling fist?? thanks tho - i definitely see the shows as being fun, low pressure outings. we shall see tho :)

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  8. Dressage shows are like lessons...except you get ribbons at the end! Yay, MOAR RIBBONS!!

    To learn tests, I run through the whole thing right off the bat, and then go back and work through the spots where we had trouble.

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    1. yay ribbons!!!! all ribbons !! lol - and sounds like that's mostly the consensus - run through it and see what's what before digging into practice. thanks!

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  9. Great questions, Emma. I'm learning quite a bit from the comment section!!

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    1. yay - me too!! i really love it when people chime in with their knowledge and experience :) (and if you're interested in these kinds of things, i use the 'training tips' label on posts with really helpful comment threads)

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  10. Sounds like you have great things planned for 2015!! What an exciting year it's going to be!! I haven't done a dressage test in a while, but from what I remember we would work on the pyramid (pretty much the bottom relaxation and rhythm, then working up from there depending on what we can get to) in lessons and then a couple of lessons before the test we would run through the whole thing. I'm sure everyone does it different, this is just what I remember doing. ^.^

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    1. thanks! and good point about the pyramid - i tend to want to rush past it, but of course nothing works well if i skip the basics...

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  11. Exciting for 2015! Pretty much what Austen said. She is more dressage smart than me :)

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    1. haha thanks!! and i suspect Austen's more dressage smart than most mere mortals ;)

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  12. I love the equitest apps! To date the full set of the eventing tests is the only app I've ever actually paid for and I'm super happy with it. I usually memorize my tests while I'm riding the train home from work using the app. Once I memorize t in my head then I run through it on the horse to make sure I have it right, then I break it down and work on individual movements. I like to go back and do the full test around once per ride (during show season) to kind of check in and see how it's coming together and what needs more work.

    Also, a local organization where I am compiles a list of upcoming shows too and I ALWAYS look forward to it!!!

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    1. interesting - thanks! i'll have to check those apps out! i like the idea of doing the test somewhat regularly - just to see how things are gelling.. but also agree that working on it in chunks might be best!

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  13. I love the goals and all the comments here. Super helpful!

    I do think it's total bull that local shows don't have a 2'3" division. WTF is wrong with them? Are they jumper schooling shows or hunter schooling shows? Jumper shows SHOULD have 2'3" divisions. It's one hole. You could always email a show coordinator to ask for a 2'3" division too! Another way you can simulate this at home/in lessons is asking your trainer/friends to warm you up like you would at a show (little X, little vertical, little oxer, 3-5x each, whatever you usually do), and then just COURSE at your height. It's a challenge, even at home. I do it at least once a month.

    In terms of dressage shows being like lessons, I kinda disagree on that one. I get so, so, so much more out of my trainer telling me exactly what I need to do and how to do it than comments which, invariably, always say "needs to be steadier in contact, needs more supple" (to which I respond, first of all "needs more supple"? do you speak English? second, DUH I KNOW WHO DOESN'T!?) So for me, dressage lessons paired with tests are useful, but shows on their own really aren't. I can't develop "more supple" and a steadier contact on my own, I simply don't know how. If you do, though, go with it!!

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    1. thanks Nicole!! our jumping is actually progressing pretty well - and we're doing course work at 2'3"-2'6" on the regular with my trainer. i just struggle a bit with confidence, so i'm not ready for competing at 2'6" yet.. soon tho - maybe this year!! re: shows not offering classes, my experience is somewhat limited, but the last two jumpers shows i wanted to attend, and the last hunter trials i DID attend only had 2' and 2'6" classes. not sure why - but contacting the organizer is not a bad idea!!

      and re: dressage lessons being greater than shows, i TOTALLY agree with you! my problem is that i haven't been able to schedule a lesson since september (sad face)... but i need some form of guidance!! so since i kinda enjoy the whole show vibe, maybe it'll give me a little bit of everything, even if it's not a perfect solution? tho like you say - perhaps the real priority should be nailing down regular lessons....

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    2. If you enjoy it, then definitely go for it!! And my local show organizer is very nice and always adds an X-rail class for those of us who aren't quite ready for the 2' yet. ;) Good luck!!

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    3. yea that really is an excellent idea (why didn't i think of that?? haha)... with the whole confidence struggle bus, i'd really rather NOT jump 2' (or below) bc it makes 2'3" look *big* -- exactly the brain response i'm trying to avoid!

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  14. I would have to say that I would recommend lessons over showing, especially if you are not confirmed yet. Judges comments especially at the schooling show level can be all over the place; generous, uneducated, unhelpful, or little comments. Not that schooling shows aren't beneficial, but I certainly would not go for the judging. A lesson program I'll help you develop as a team and uncover strengths and weaknesses. A good coach will also show you how to get the best makes out of your test. Just my 2 cents.

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    1. thanks!! i appreciate (and agree with!) your points about lessons v shows. when i signed up with my dressage trainer last spring, the plan was for twice-monthly lessons... but somehow the wheels fell off the bus in sept, and there's been zero action since.

      a higher priority goal than showing is to get a trainer -- and i promise i'm working on that too!! -- but my experiences have me feeling like maybe i shouldn't hold my breath. plus i love shows, and if i'm not spending the $$ on lessons might as well get out and about one way or another :)

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  15. I think test riding is a skill you can only gain by riding tests, so definitely ride them at home. If you're worried about anticipation of the horse (which I don't believe in, I think it's the rider who memorizes and anticipates the test and the horse picks up on it), ride similar tests and then only ride your show test a few times.

    I'm with T in that I also do NOT trust schooling show judges. We have some in the area who are L graduates, are working toward their r's, and are very good judges, but the reality is that schooling show judges do not have the same experience or rigor of training that the judges at recognized shows do. It's hard enough with even the recognized show judges saying all sorts of different/weird/unclear things.

    That's why I would prioritize finding a good, consistent trainer much higher than showing for the sake of learning (show for the sake of getting experience and ribbons!). Judges only see you for maybe 5 minutes. Sure, some of them can really pinpoint a problem and write two sentences that make complete sense and allow you to cognitively restructure to improve your riding, but your trainer is (ideally) going to see you every week for an entire hour, be able to talk to you about your ride, and even hop on your horse and feel what is going on. In the long run, your trainer is going to help you so so so much more than a few comments on a test.

    I agree with Austen that stretchy trot will not come until she's 100% reliable in the bridle so put that as a priority and maybe stick to T1 (or know that you'll grab a lower score on that movement in the other T tests) until she's really getting it. Once as she's better in the contact, that movement is not difficult at all.

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    1. thanks Megan - that's a helpful way of thinking about test riding. and i agree completely with your ranking regular training so much higher than shows -- it makes me sad tho bc for whatever reason it is ridiculously difficult getting anything scheduled! and i'm not sure why, either, but i'm working on it for sure! (that and consistency in the bridle... ugh....)

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